by Cheryl Matrasko
Jul 3, 2018

The life of the Samurai not only became one of discipline and military education, but a rich cultivation of the spirit and mind through the arts of writing, painting, calligraphy, philosophy, etc. It was as if a Renaissance was being experienced within their social sect. Zen provided the warrior class with personal enlightenment, polish, and refinement.

The unwritten Samurai code of conduct, known as Bushido, held that the true warrior must hold loyalty, courage, veracity, compassion, and honor as important, above all else. An appreciation and respect of life was also imperative, as it added balance to the warrior character of the Samurai. He was often very stoic with a deep and strong philosophical passion. He could be deadly in combat and yet so gentle and compassionate with children and the weak.

Zen Buddhism influenced them greatly giving them enlightenment for good judgment, personal growth, and self-awareness. Their exposure and immersion into philosophy and the arts expanded their perspectives and lifted them beyond the limits of their own feudal rule and culture. This is where Bushido, the Samurai Code of Conduct has its origins.

Bushido is the unwritten code of conduct of the Samurai. Literally, Bushido means "warrior - samurai - ways". Bushi is a term for warrior, but directly infers a more prestigious or higher class warrior. The "ways" or "way" is a term used by most "do-martial arts" (such as: Judo, Kendo, Aikido, and Iaido), which means "the way to”.

Influencing Bushido, Zen Buddhism lent to the Samurai a very Stoic disposition. This Stoicism was realized out of a genuine respect for life and also for death. Death, an inevitable eventuality of our own lives, is as much a part of nature as is life. It gives us an added level of thought and meaning to our existence. With the advent of death, there is the introduction of life. There are strong human emotions of anger, remorse, and detachment, etc., that are associated with death that complicate its understanding. However we are gifted by these very same feelings, that allow us to appreciate life and the things we enjoy and love. We most notably appreciate the things we take for granted once they are gone forever. The Samurai trust and faith in nature was because of the great admiration and respect for both life and death.

In tune with this level of consciousness, Shinotism also influenced the Bushido of the Samurai. To seek honor by first looking inside the soul and confront the intimate fears that we hide from ourselves, and that plague our psyche in everyday life. This is the purification of one’s soul --- " . . . to know thyself ". In addition, Shinotism brought a sense of filial piety and loyalty to the family and homeland. When you " . . . know yourself, you know your weaknesses and strengths, and most of all - you know where you belong." This sense of belonging has been attributed to the patriotic and nationalistic culture of Japan even to this day.

Another factor in the backbone of the code of Bushido was Confucianism. It bonded community and family relationships. These relationships had several different moral priorities or qualities to them. In feudal Japan, the samurai served various different lords and their loyalty was given to them. This association was that of servant and master. The samurai himself was the head of his family. The safety and well-being depended upon him. His role was that of head of the house, husband, father, brother, or son.